Lynette Fay: Lent involves not having treats for a while – is that such a bad thing?
There was a time when treats were exactly that. I remember dreaming of cracking open the Cadbury's Buttons egg my Granny Fay got for me every year. I'll never recreate that sense of anticipation experienced as a child, but I do really appreciate whatever it is I've abstained from for the last while
THE coming of Lent used to fill me with dread. The dread was exacerbated if Lent was ‘early’. To me as a youngster, Lent meant six weeks without chocolate, without sweet treats of any sort. As a child, Ash Wednesday heralded the beginning of six weeks of hell. Fish, fasting, no sweets and more than one Mass a week.
Who decided that all children should be deprived of sweets and treats for 40 days and 40 nights?
Technically Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday. That was never an option in our house; the ‘Holy season of Lent’ was observed until Easter Sunday. Forty-six long days and nights.
Rules, however, are made to broken at best, bent at worst. I can’t remember how I discovered that we should be permitted a treat day on a Sunday during Lent. My seven-year-old self really liked that theory. I saved up my sweets and put them in a Quality Street tin, which was kept under my bed.
I remember having a sneaky treat from my stash most Sundays. I’m aware that this disclosure might be a revelation to my mother.
There are other exceptions. A slice of cake is permitted on Mother's Day, naturally, and then, there’s St Patrick’s Day. Not only did this man banish the snakes from Ireland, his lasting legacy allows us some Lenten respite. Hail Glorious St Patrick indeed.
A few years ago, as an adult, I had chosen to ‘do’ Lent, and gave up all sweets for the duration. The prospect of a treat on St Patrick’s Day was beyond exciting.
I bounced into Casement to work on the McCrory Cup final (traditionally played on St Patrick’s Day) and related my excitement at the prospect of a sweet treat when we were done. One of my colleagues remarked: "Yeah, because Jesus took a day out on his fast in the desert to celebrate St Patrick’s Day." Point well made. The notion is ridiculous, but I was having my slice of banoffee that evening, and I did.
Bending the rules leads to ingenuity and creativity. When my niece was five or six she had the situation sussed. When asked if she would like peas with her dinner, she replied that she was "off peas for Lent". It was very hard not to burst out laughing. Funny as she was, however, she was served the peas and she ate them.
Initially when I went to university, one of my first acts of rebellion as I fended for myself, living away from home, was not to observe Lent at all. Why should I? I was an independent adult making decisions for myself for the first time and it felt great.
The rebellion lasted a good few years but recently my attitude has changed. Now, I don’t mind abstinence – words I never thought I would hear myself say or write.
Why? The answer is simple. When anything is forced on you, the natural reaction is to rebel against it. We have all done that at some stage in our lives, be it against inflicted extra-curricular activity, sport, music, language... We’ve all been there.
Then we rediscover the very thing that was forced upon us, and all of a sudden, we see it differently and appreciate it more than ever.
We now live in a world where everything is available 24/7, 365 days a year. If in a fortunate enough position, we rarely deprive ourselves of anything that we really desire and willpower is left wanting.
Lent presents a test. Do I really need that bun, that glass of wine?
There was a time when treats were exactly that. I remember dreaming of cracking open the Cadbury’s Buttons egg my Granny Fay got for me every year. It was my favourite. I’ll never recreate that sense of anticipation experienced as a child, but I do really appreciate whatever it is I’ve abstained from for the last while.
This year Lent started on Valentine’s Day. How many skipped the ‘romantic’ meal that night in order to observe the Lenten fast? Not many, I’d say. Fair enough – it’s what St Valentine would have wanted.
In the spirit of bending the Lenten rules and in order not to break the habit of a lifeteime, I’m going to start my 40 days tomorrow – 6x7 = 42 days from then until Easter Sunday, so I’ll give myself two days off along the way. I’ll let you know how I get on.
‘Farewell to the port and brandy, to the chocolate and the treats…’